What is Indoor Air Pollution? What Causes it?

Photo of Indoor CurtainThe term “indoor air pollution” may seem a little vague at first, but once you understand what it actually includes you may be very surprised.

In this article, we’ll answer these three questions:

  • What is indoor air pollution?
  • What Causes indoor air pollution?
  • How Can You Reduce it?

Our goal is to reveal to you all of the key factors regarding indoor air pollutants and help you determine if this is something you should be concerned with or not.

Indoor Air Pollution Definition

The definition for what is indoor air pollution includes any toxic contaminants that are encountered within the spaces we dwell that are inside, such as our homes, schools, department stores and workplaces.

According to the California Air Resources Board, pollution builds up much more rapidly indoors than it did in the past, which results in higher levels of pollutants than outside. In fact, studies have shown that the levels can be anywhere between 25-60% greater than the outdoors.

The cause of this is mainly due to the fact that newer buildings and homes are created with tighter construction and toxic particles are not able to freely escape.

Sources of Indoor Pollutants

Now, you’re probably wondering “What causes indoor air pollution?”

Indoor pollutants come in types and forms, but the major ones you want to look out for include:

  • Tobacco smoke
  • Carbon monoxide
  • Nitrogen oxide from unvented or faulty gas appliances
  • Smoke from wood burning stoves and fireplaces
  • Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) including, paint, aerosol sprays, solvents, glues, adhesives, air fresheners, cleaning chemicals, etc.
  • Pet dander
  • Dust
  • Pollen
  • Mold
  • Asbestos
  • Radon
  • Lead

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), smoke, pet dander, dust and mold are some of the most common indoor pollutants that are found in almost every home. Asbestos, Radon and Lead are not as common but pose extreme health risks.

VOC pollution exists in high concentrations indoors because it comes from so many different types of products. VOCs are released by aerosol sprays, cleaning products, paint, air fresheners, new carpets, and even building materials.

It’s always advisable to use an alternative to aerosol sprays and chemical cleaners whenever possible, and to buy paint that has zero to low VOCs (like Olympic Paints.)

In regards to pet dander, dust pollen and mold, the best option here is to keep a tidy house and/or use an air purifier to help out. More information on this type of device is below.

Associated Health Risks

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that we spend as much as 90% of our time indoors. And, for infants and the elderly this number is even greater.

Being exposed to indoor air pollution is a serious concern and can dramatically affect your health if you don’t take care of it.

A 1987 study by the EPA showed that indoor air pollution was the fourth highest cause for cancer out of 13 environmental problems.

In addition to cancer, indoor pollutants can cause other types of problems, including bronchitis, pneumonia and emphysema, heart disease, impaired mental function, allergic reactions, asthma attacks, liver damage and more.

Ventilation Is an Important Factor

Photo of Poor Home Ventilation SystemWhen a home doesn’t have proper ventilation, its pollutants may build up to dangerous levels. Some homes have design features built-in which boost ventilation, while others don’t and this can be one of the contributing causes of indoor air pollution.

Homes which are made to keep indoor air in and minimize the levels of exterior air which can get inside are at higher risk for interior air pollution.

However, every home may be subject to this problem regardless of how it’s built. Therefore one of the best things you can do to reduce the level of harmful airborne toxins is to install a portable air purifier or whole home air purifying unit.

An air purifier works to remove the bad particles in the air and recirculate clean, fresh air that’s healthy to breathe.

Exterior Air Gets Inside in Many Ways

Exterior air comes in and exits through a range of processes. For example, air may enter or leave via natural ventilation. Mechanical ventilation is also a way that exterior air gets inside. There are actually many ways for air to get in and out, including joints, wall cracks and ceiling cracks, as well as cracks in walls. Any kinds of openings will let air escape or infiltrate and you’ll often find small openings surrounding windows and around doors.

When natural ventilation, such as open windows and opened doors, lets air in and out, it will affect interior air pollution levels, as well as indoor temperature. As well, mechanical devices, such as fans, are able to move air around when they are being used. How fast air enters and leaves in known by the term, air exchange level. A low air exchange level, or rate, is a trigger for interior pollution.

Whether you live in an apartment or a home, you’ll find that these types of problems may crop up. Commercial spaces are also subject to interior air issues. If you want to fix common causes of indoor pollution, it’s all about negating or minimizing the sources.

Knowing which factors influence indoor air quality will help a lot. Ventilation experts will be able to help you fix things if you don’t want to do it yourself.

How You Can Reduce It

If you suspect that your home has an asbestos, lead or carbon monoxide problem, it’s best to call a professional. Professionals can test your home for these toxins and make a recommendation for how to eradicate it.

If on the other hand, you’re experiencing issues with dust, pet dander, pollen or mold, you can easily remove this pollutants through the use of an air purifier.

An air purifier is a specialized machine that strips the air of harmful indoor pollution. Depending on the type of device you get, will determine what types of particles the product can remove. Some air purifiers are excellent at removing all types of toxins, while others focus on a select few.

You can find out more about how each type of air purifier works by browsing that section of our website. We have a host of articles dedicated to educating you on this topic.

If you’d like to hire a professional indoor air quality specialist, take a look at the Indoor Air Quality Association for a recommendation.